The semester-long project was central to the course, “Managing and Leading People in Organizations.” The course is required for management majors and the Integrated Business and Engineering (IBE) majors at Lehigh.
“The project is intended to provide each team with a hands-on opportunity to examine a real-world organization and to develop recommendations to improve its effectiveness,” said Moore. “It also provides students with an experiential learning opportunity in real-time to directly apply what they learn in class to positively impact our local community.”
Adrienne McNeil, assistant vice president of community and regional affairs at Lehigh, helped connect students with the nonprofit groups.
As in past courses, students were charged with both diagnosing problems that were potentially hampering the organizations and making recommendations on how to better address issues. Students used quantitative metrics to quantify the impact of their project, and they used organizational behavior concepts and material from the course to guide their analyses and data collection. They also conducted interviews and surveys and made observations while participating in fundraising events.
“Our goal with this project is to improve value and impact,” Moore said. “Many of us have to manage employees without direct oversight over them. Motivating and engaging those employees is a different skill set.”
In presentations at the end of the semester, the teams summarized their work with the various organizations and made recommendations for improving fundraising and other operations.
The team of students who worked with the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, for example, volunteered at the group’s annual walk/run fundraising event to better assess efforts. While recognizing that many dedicated volunteers helped with the event, the students noted that the organization also had to contend with the fact that some volunteers did not show up on the day of the event and that at times volunteers were unclear as to who to go to if they had questions.
As a result, the student team made recommendations to help the organization in its fundraising efforts, including sending out communiques to let volunteers know how important they are to the operations and providing volunteers with photos of “who to find” if they have questions during their shifts. Among the key takeaways, students said, was the dynamics involved in managing volunteers.
“Overall this experience was extremely rewarding,” one student said. Throughout the time the students spent with the organization, “we learned valuable communication skills and gained real-world experience. One of the most important things that we've learned throughout this experience is the value of doing the right thing at whatever the cost," one student said.
Students working with the Downtown Allentown Business Alliance, which hosts the Blues, Brews and Barbecue event each June in support of downtown Allentown, assessed how the alliance attracts and engages its volunteers, and how it raises money, among other matters.
To help solicit volunteers, the students circulated posters on the Lehigh campus and elsewhere for the Blues fest. They also collected feedback from volunteers, which led to recommendations that the organization rotate jobs to allow volunteers to be more engaged.
“We learned the importance of being resilient,” one team member said. “In this process, we learned how things don't always go as planned and how organization dynamics are different.”
Students who worked with the Boys & Girls Club of Bethlehem received support from Lehigh’s women’s and men’s soccer teams, which donated about two dozen soccer balls, and equipment services, which donated a bag of basketballs, to the organization. Another student team helped the Miller Keystone Blood Center with a blood drive on campus at Lamberton Hall, soliciting more student participation.
Team members, who said the hands-on learning helped them to better grasp the concepts of organizational behavior, shared their recommendations with the individual organizations. Representatives also attended the presentations.